When your partner shuts down, it can be hard to tell if what you’re dealing with is just a rough patch in your relationship—or if he’s hiding something from you. Maybe he’s being faithful physically, but what about emotionally?
Emotional affairs are much less defined than physical ones, which is why they’re so challenging to pinpoint, says Jane Greer, PhD, author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. With developments as subtle as lingering glances, it’s not always easy to see when a friendship has blossomed into something more. If your gut is telling you that something’s off, here are seven signs to look out for that might indicate your S.O. is having an emotional affair. If several apply, consider having a discussion to clear the air.
Your sex life has drastically improved—or dropped off.
- When a person is having an emotional affair that hasn’t yet turned physical, the frequency of sex with their partner can actually increase. “The passion for the one he desires is played out in the relationship he’s already in,” says psychotherapist Ginnie Love, PhD. Of course, every person is different—for some, when there’s an uptick in emotional intimacy with someone new, the level of sexual interest in the current partner takes a nose dive.
He drops her name constantly.
- “We mention friends from time to time, but a constant name drop is disrespectful and inappropriate,” says Love. It’s basically an invitation for you to call him on it. And when you do, take note of his reaction. If he’s super-defensive about their friendship, reiterates that there’s nothing going on between them multiple times, or is super-forceful about wanting you to believe him, it might be time to take stock of his loyalty, says Saltz.
He seems distant or detached.
- If your partner is scoring attention and emotional support from someone else, he might stop discussing the intricacies of his life with you. We only have so much emotional energy to go around, says Love, and our attention tends to go where we are most drawn. Over time, this can also lead to physical detachment. “If your partner is spending the time he previously spent with you on someone else, that is an immediate warning sign that needs to be addressed,” adds Love.
You’re starting to feel like the third wheel in your own relationship.
- Say you’re at a party with your mate and his friend shows up. If your guy immediately leaves you alone to tend to her needs, that’s the big red flag. “If you start to feel like you’re not number one and that everything significant isn’t being shared with you first, you may not be on solid ground in your relationship,” says Greer.
His attitude toward you has changed.
- In addition to pulling away, he may start praising his new obsession and criticizing you—say, throwing shade about your cooking skills or taste in movies, even though these aspects of your personality never seemed to bother him before. “This is especially dangerous territory because he may be unconsciously sizing you up,” says Love, comparing you to a fantasy version of the other person and idealizing what it might be like to be with her.
He argues with you differently.
- If you’re hearing new and surprising comments from him in response to disagreements you’ve been having for a long time, it could be a sign that he’s been spilling on your relationship issues with her, and then absorbing her commentary on them.”Chances are these are her responses when he tells her about fights the two of you have, and he’s taking them in and using them in your arguments,” says Saltz.
- If several of these signs do apply to your S.O. and you can’t shake the feeling that something’s up, it’s better to be upfront about your concerns sooner rather than later. “Bring it up by saying you feel your partner’s been distant, and that it has something to do with the closeness they’ve developed with another person,” says Saltz. “Be honest about wanting them to stop and reinvest in your relationship, discuss any problems, and rebuild your bond—but the emotional affair has to end first.” Expressing your hurt and concern doesn’t mean you’re pointing fingers—it just means you care about what happens to your relationship and you’re willing to do the work.
His tech habits have changed.
- If he doesn’t text very often and is suddenly glued to his phone or spends more time browsing on social media than he used to, this is a behavioral change that might signify something’s up, says Love. And if he starts dodging details about who he’s keeping in touch with, this could be a subtle admission of guilt. “On some level, he knows what he’s doing isn’t quite right and that you’d understandably feel jealous, so he avoids and evades, thinking that what you don’t know won’t hurt you,” says Gail Saltz, MD, psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different.